My mother, I would assume like so many other mothers, always marked my height on the frame of a door with a pencil. It was something we both excitedly waited for, my father teased my mother and I by affectionately referring to her as a "dork." I was nine when it started, every time I went back to check how much I'd grown or add another line, well, it was then that I started to realize there was something wrong with our house.
The lines were never there when we returned, always to the puzzlement of my mother and I. At first she said they must have just worn off, scuffed by all of us as we came and went through the door. So, we started using markers, which to my mother's growing frustration disappeared just as quickly. She actually confronted my father, wanting to know if he had been painting over it. They both argued stupidly, and then laughed it off a minute or so later. Back then, anything was easy to dismiss, everything was playful. My mother pressed her lips together in a look of mock-anger, until she laughed when he tickled her and broke her comedically-stoic stance.
I noticed one of the lines in the pantry, I thought it was a bug at first, in fact I could've sworn it moved... When I went to swat it I just slapped the wall and realized it was nothing but a line drawn on the surface. No, I didn't even think that, or connect it to the lines drawn on the door. It just registered subconsciously as a scratch on the wall, one of the canned food items pressed too hard into the drywall and leaving a mark.
A week later, my father was up on a chair, swatting what he insisted were bugs.
"But Dad," I said sheepishly. "They're in the wall, and, they're just lines."
"Um," he scratched his head. "Yeah, I don't know kiddo, they must just be some weird kind of flat worms crawling on the wall."
"They do look.. Pretty strange though.." My mother said, not really refuting what he said, and just drifting off while she stared at the lines swimming around on the surface of the walls like far off, celluloid sea-snakes.
The lines in the wall disappeared an hour after we saw them, my parents called an exterminator but he said he couldn't find any evidence of bugs. When either mom or dad tried to explain what the "bugs" looked like, the gray-jumpsuit-clad man just stood there scratching his head.
By the time my tenth birthday had come, despite the door frame still being remarkably bare, my parents had forgotten all of it and my mother was eager to restart her efforts to catalogue my growth. She had a large, permanent, paint marker that had clearly been bought from the hardware store for this exact purpose. When she opened the cap she had to shake it, producing the same sound as a spray paint can, and a thick drop of ink rolled down the marker, over two of her fingers.
I held my back as straight against the wall as I could, stretching my neck and hoping I was going to be tall enough to enter on the basketball team next year.
My mother recoiled and gasped, while I just stood there, confused. I remember wondering why she was staring at me like that, a look I had never seen her use, much less towards me, like I was a feral animal.
"Kayla come on, you can't swear around him like that." My father said, sternly.
"Jacob-" my mother said. She was pointing right at my head, at least I thought she was back then, her finger was shaking.
My father's face turned as white as a sheet.
"H-hey buddy," his voice cracked. "Come away from the wall okay? Come on over here by me."
I did as he said, still confused, still wondering why my mother was looking at me like I was going to bite her. Except as I walked her eyes, her face didn't follow me. I turned back to look at the wall-
"Hey!" I had never heard my father shout before. "LOOK AT ME!"
He grabbed me, pulled me against him and buried my head in his shoulder, his hand wrapped around my head, not allowing me to look away.
I went to sleep early that night, I couldn't even tell you what I thought had happened. I kept wondering if I had done something? Something bad, disgusting, for mom and dad to look at me like that. Later on I woke up to hear them screaming at each other downstairs, fighting, another thing they had never done. The next morning I woke up to see that the entire wall was missing, torn out, with only jagged edges left. Dad was asleep in the backyard on a lawn chair, he had a bottle of whisky next to him, and there was a pile of black, charred coals in front of him. Mom was on the couch, and she was holding a butcher knife so tightly in her hand that her knuckles had turned white. I wanted to wake her up, but she kept shaking in her sleep. I was afraid she would cut herself, she even flailed and stabbed the couch once, but I didn't know what to do. Eventually, I just laid down on the floor in front of her and waited for one of them to wake up.
When she finally opened her eyes I said; "I'm sorry mommy, please don't be mad at me, did I ruin the wall?"
She dropped the knife on the floor, I couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying.
She wrapped her arms around me, tears were soaking into my shirt, repeating; "Brandon, baby, I'm so sorry, it's not your fault it's not your fault, I'm so sorry baby so sorry so sorry." And then later, quietly; "you didn't ruin the wall baby, you didn't... Not your fault."
My parents still fought after that, for a long time. None of my friends came over, and my dad said we all had to sleep in the same room, he moved all our mattresses into the living area. They argued all the time, my mom kept shouting things about taking me an leaving, dad would yell something back like; "where would we go?".
See, as a kid, I couldn't possibly tell you what was happening, this was all just, uh, bad. Now? Well... You know when characters in a horror movie find out that they've bought a haunted house, you know, ghosts in the toilet, blood dripping from the ceiling, all that jazz, and you're practically yelling at your TV for them to just, move out? Yeah, turns out people will put up with a lot when they've pooled their life savings into something.
Sure, for a while things were still like this, at one point my mom took me to stay with her sister, but we arrived at a dirty motel and she just turned the car around. Dad was waiting on the porch when we got back, neither of them said anything when we walked inside. Eventually though, things just, kind of, kept going. My parents fought less, and then stopped fighting. Dad rebuilt the hole in our kitchen wall. We still slept in the living room for the next three months, and it was another year before mom ever let me have friends over again.
I never really thought about how there were never any pens or pencils in the house after that.
When I was eleven my mother became pregnant, nine months later my little brother Jake was born. I never really asked them about it, and I know now they wouldn't have had any answer to give me. Jake had never been a part of any of that, and as far as we were all concerned, neither were we.
Four years go by, I'm in high-school, me and my dad are sitting at the kitchen table before I have to leave for school and him for work, mom is standing at the sink cleaning the dishes. Jake runs in-
"Mommy! Mommy! Come meet my new fwend! He's furry and flufwy and he needs food and somewhere to sleep! Can we keep him!? Can we!? Can we!?"
"Oh Jesus buddy," my father sets down his newspaper. "You didn't bring an animal into the house, did you?"
"Nope, nopfe," he shakes his head. Jake had a tooth removed just a month ago, and he's still stuttering through some sounds.
Dad raises an eyebrow at him.
"I promithe!" He stamps his foot. "I didn't bring him in!"
"Buddy" my father rubs his temples. "I'm really not going to be happy if I go up there and find a gopher under your bed."
"No really! I didn't bring him from outside!" He whines, before proudly exclaiming; "I used a marker from school and I drew him on the wall, his name is Fred!"
A bowl slips from my mother's hands and crashes against the floor, neither of them look at it, my father's face is pale. They're both just staring into each other's eyes, my mother looks afraid, I'm hoping one of them is going to say something.
"So?" Jake says, confused. "Can we keep him?"
"Jake stay here," my mother says it but they're both getting up, walking slowly to his room.
"But Mom!" He cries.
"Jake STAY THERE!" My father shouts back. Jake does as he's told, he's never been yelled at before.
They walk up there, and then, nothing. And it's just me and Jake, not moving. He looks at me, and he's afraid too.
I walk over to Jake-
"Hey buddy," I tell him. "Dad's not mad at you, not really, okay? But you need to do as he says. You need to stay down here, can you do that for me?"
He nods, and I turn and walk up the stairs.
At the entrance-way I stop, I can see both of my parents, turned away from me, not moving. I gulp, raise my hand, start to say something but then stop. They're both still not moving, apparently staring at the wall in front of them. I walk past the door into Jake's room, mom turns and looks at me, but doesn't move. I walk right up next to them and look down at the wall where my dad is still staring, unblinking.
Whatever it is, the way it moves is enough to tell you it isn't natural. One part of it, which the rest converges onto, is a flat... Surface? Clearly only ever meant to exist in two dimensions, and at times I can see my brother's crude drawing whenever it's skittering movement's bring a scribbled image of a dog, or maybe a cat, into view. The picture has arms and legs, just sticks that have simple paws on the end, but it doesn't use those to move, they seem to only be a hindrance. The body and head of the dog are scribbled in, between the marker lines it's sinewy flesh contracts and bloats. I don't think flesh is the right word, but I don't have a better one. It's body looks a bit like ink but moves like rubber, pulsing like it's filled with pitch-black blood. It writhes and flops around an empty plain, trying in vain to move, crawling around it's void with a child's drawing fused to it's back like a disturbing turtle shell. Little, sticky, tentacle-like appendages grope nothing and somehow still pull it along, dragging it's body against another surface that I can't fathom, tearing itself in a quest, a need, to move.
It's... Inside the wall? It looks like the wall has become a TV screen, or a piece of glass. But that thing just jerks and slithers against the blank, beige color of the wall. It appears so real, and moves in the most demented kind of mix between two dimensionally and three. You'd think you could just reach out and touch it, but it never crosses the border of the surface of the wall. A dime sized cavity opens up, a circle crushed against the side of a wayward marker smear, and sounds begin to emerge. It... It sounds like it's groaning, or sobbing, or screaming very quietly. A bit like a cat that's slowly dying after having been run over.
It makes what, arguably, begin to painfully coalesce into the fragments of words-
"F-F-Fr-Fred. F-Fryd. Fr-Fr-Fred. F-Fred. K-K-Kel-Kell-Kill. F-Fred. K-Kill F-Fred K-Kill."
"I took out an insurance policy on the house," my father finally breaks the, well not the silence. "I got it four years ago when... It wouldn't have worked then.. But it's been long enough."
At that moment I hear footsteps on the staircase, Jake walking up to see what's happening. I turn away, walk out the door, and catch Jake as he tries to walk in. I grab his head and hold it into my chest so he can't turn and look. As I bring him away I try to cover his ears so he doesn't hear me turn back and say;
"Burn it to the ground."